Teaching Connection to Place & Culture:
A Māori Perspective
Brenda Soutar
Brenda Soutar is Māori and lives in Aotearoa New Zealand. Her experience
as a teacher in Kōhanga Reo spans more than 30 years. Kōhanga Reo are
the New Zealand indigenous Māori language immersion educational
settings for children up to five or six years of age.
With others, Brenda established a Maori school for infants through to Year
13 (around 17 years of age) where she remains a leader.
In 2016-17 Brenda was a member of the writing team who worked on the
refresh of Te Whāriki, New Zealand's national early childhood curriculum
Brenda talks about her nations “journey” toward bi-culturalism. Think about your own
culture. Was it represented in the schools you attended?
Growing up, did you feel that your cultural background was celebrated or
Brenda speaks about Te Whāriki, which is New Zealand’s much-admired national early
childhood curriculum document. She says that it has its roots in the Māori world view.
What are the roots of the curriculum you follow either as an educator or parent?
How do those roots impact your practice? How could your curriculum be opened up to
be more inclusive?
Brenda tells us that Te Whāriki refers to a traditional woven mat of the Māori people,
explaining how it is a symbol of life from birth to death and how it holds the stories of
her culture. She talks about how she encourages educators and parents to “step right
back” and look at the origins of the concept, rather than just seeing it as a title.
Can you think of a similar metaphor that represents your approach to the children in
your life?
Is everyone and everything woven into it?
How can you improve your practice by improving your metaphor?
Brenda talks about the Māori view of time, explaining that they do not view it as linear
the way Western cultures do, but rather as more like a big balloon that includes the
past, present and future, so you’re “always in the space with all your ancestors and
with all of your descendents.
Think of the children in your life who do not share your cultural background. How do
you make sure there are no fundamental things you are missing because you don’t
understand where these children are coming from?
Brenda tells us that they don’t enroll just students, but rather their entire families,
including ancestors. How can you begin to enroll entire families?
How can you begin to make space for all the cultures represented in your classroom?
Brenda advises us: “Don’t panic to force that relationship,” but rather to allow it to
evolve and be disclosed” in time. She says it’s important for adults to set aside their
agendas to know and instruct and to teach with an open heart. That, she says, is how
we build relationships. Think about an important relationship you’ve had with a child
that evolved over a long period of time.
What did you learn about the child by allowing it to emerge?
What did you learn about yourself?
Brenda talks about schools becoming “a family.” What do you do to create “family” for
the children in your life?
Brenda says that they have found that the best training ground for educators is to
actually work in a school with children. How would you compare your experience with
coursework versus actual hands-on experience?
Brenda talks about the Māori tradition of grandparents raising the children rather than
the parents. Either as an educator or parent, how can you get more elders (older
people) involved in your “village?”
Brenda says that the smallest family unit considered by the Māori is 70-80 people and
that this conception fosters the concept of “interdependence.” What are some ways
that you can foster the idea of interdependence among the children in your life?
Brenda talks about the importance of raising children to understand their own cultural
point of view, but also to listen to other points of view. How do you foster this
approach with the children in your life?
In which ways were you able to map Brendas messages to your own life?
What are your big takeaways from this talk?
Share your thoughts about this talk in our dedicated
thread about this speaker in the private Teacher Toms
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Tom "Teacher Tom" Hobson is an early childhood educator, international speaker,
education consultant, teacher of teachers, parent educator, and author. He is best
known, however, for his namesake "Teacher Tom's Blog," where he has posted daily for
over a decade, chronicling the life and times of his little preschool in the rain soaked
Pacific Northwest corner of the USA. For nearly two decades he was the sole employee
of the Woodland Park Cooperative School, a parent-owned and operated school, knit
together by Teacher Tom's democratic, progressive, play-based pedagogy. He has
authored two bestselling books, consults with organizations about his "Family Schools
program,” and inspires early years audiences around the world at major education
conferences, both virtually and in-person.
Teacher Tom also enjoys sharing his approach through online e-courses for early
childhood educators and parents, and via international ECE conferences. In 2020, he
co-hosted the epic “The Play First Summit” with Fairydust Teaching, attracting more
than 75,000 participants from over 100 countries. This year he is thrilled to be hosting
and producing Teacher Toms Play Summit all on his own.